Sage Grouse Initiative: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Conservation Easements at Abating Fragmentation for Sage-Grouse
Conservation easements are a commonly used tool to abate fragmentation of landscapes and support species conservation. In Wyoming, we are evaluating the effectiveness of conservation easements at abating the threat of fragmentation to sage-grouse through future scenarios modeling. Using models of future oil/gas, wind, and residential development, we are quantifying future landscape change, and simulating change with and without strategic conservation easements in place. We will use these scenarios to quantify possible impacts to sage-grouse populations.
Identifying Important Areas for Migratory Birds
Wind energy development may negatively impact bird populations, but previous studies suggest that mortality rates can be reduced if new developments are placed in areas that avoid major migration paths. Unfortunately, maps of migratory pathways are not available in Wyoming. Scientists from TNC and the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database are collaborating to model migratory bird concentration areas and pathways across Wyoming and identify potential conflicts between the birds and wind development.
>>Download Our Report: "Mapping Migration: Important Places for Wyoming's Migratory Birds"
Wyoming Wetlands Characterization
Wetlands are a scarce but vital resource that serves many functions, including: wildlife and fisheries habitat, and enhancing water quality and riparian health. Conservancy scientists worked in a multi-agency partnership of wetland biologists and planners to conduct an assessment and prioritization of wetlands in Wyoming. We mapped the highest density wetland sites and developed a model to quantify and characterize wetlands and their distribution by factors such as biodiversity, integrity and vulnerability. In addition to a peer-reviewed publication, this wetlands assessment will be incorporated into the upcoming revision of Wyoming's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy.
>>Download Our Report: "Wyoming Wetlands Assessment"
Ecosystem Services in the Upper Green
We completed a study on the possibility of establishing a payment for ecosystem services (PES) program in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin in 2011, which can be downloaded here. We found great interest in developing a PES program. The Nature Conservancy is continuing this work, in collaboration with the University of Wyoming and the Sublette County Conservation District, to identify program options that appeal to both potential buyers and sellers and metrics that can be used to evaluate implemented practices.
Mapping Social Values
In Wyoming, we know where to find natural resources, but we have not had the same information about which places people care about and why. Through a recent survey in southern Wyoming, we created social maps showing places that are important to people for recreation, wildlife, water and many other reasons and people’s preferences for where future energy and residential development should occur. These maps provide a collective social vision and can be used to inform local planning. To see the maps and other survey findings, download our report.
Future Oil and Gas Development Impacts on Sage-Grouse
Oil and gas development throughout the Intermountain West is occurring at unprecedented rates, and scientists have documented numerous impacts to wildlife (e.g. sage-grouse, mule deer, pronghorn antelope). Our research focuses on understanding where we anticipate future oil and gas developments and calculating what the likely impacts to sage-grouse would be if we continue to develop all resources without excluding key habitats for sage-grouse and other sagebrush species.
Energy by Design
Scientists at The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming are testing frameworks that will balance the biological impacts associated with energy development with conservation goals. Called Energy by Design, this science-based process works through projects with industry and federal partners. The goal is to identify, implement, and adapt the highest priority mitigation opportunities for a project by looking at habitat conservation across a region and/or for a particular energy development site, based on goals for and potential impacts to species and habitats.
Conservation easements are the principal tool that land trusts such as the Conservancy use to preserve habitat and open space. Despite the widespread use of easements, few studies have quantified the degree to which easements have actually reduced development or influenced biological conditions. In a recent research project we found that easements did prevent significant development from occurring, as well as evidence of more wildlife use on easements in areas experiencing high rates of development. To learn more, download our fact sheet.